INDIANAPOLIS — The Indianapolis Star is suing eight Indiana hospitals claiming they have violated state records laws by withholding information on how the hospitals are spending public funding on their nursing homes.

The lawsuit was filed in Marion County Superior Court and lists the plaintiffs as the IndyStar and Tony Cook an investigative journalist with the IndyStar. Listed as defendants in the lawsuit are Hancock Regional Health, Hendricks Regional Health, Henry Community Health, Johnson Memorial Health, Major Health Partners, Rush Memorial Hospital, Witham Health Services and Riverview Health.

The complaint argues that the hospital are in violation of Indiana’s Access to Public Records Act (APRA) by withholding these requests for records.

According to the complaint, Cook sent a request to 20 APRA requests to 20 hospitals on May 4, 2021. The requests asked for “1. Records showing how much of… supplemental nursing home payments (i.e., UPL funds) were used each year on your agency’s nursing homes” and “2. Records showing how much of those supplemental nursing home payments were used each year for non-nursing home purposes.”

Twelve of the 20 hospitals provided records as requested, but the eight included in the lawsuit did not.

According to the complaint, several of the hospitals denied the request alleging that the requested records “constitute protected trade secrets.” Major and Johnson hospitals alleged the request sought “proprietary” and “competitive” information. Riverview and Rush didn’t cite any reason for their denial, according to the complaint.

The IndyStar filed a similiar lawsuit in recent years when also requesting nursing home funding information from hospitals. In the prior complaint, the Office of the Public Access Counselor (PAC) concluded that the records and budget entries of UPL money was “most likely fair game for disclosure” and determined that the hospitals “did not fully satisfy (PAC’s) expectations by arguing that the information requested qualified as a trade secret under law.”

PAC changed course when reviewing the new complaint, however, and concluded the hospitals did not violate APRA.

The complaint argues, however, that the hospitals failed to show how disclosing the records would damage the hospitals’ ability to complete since, in the state of Indiana, they do not compete for Medicaid dollars in other states or with private hospitals.

Cook summarized in the following complaint sent to PAC:

While the hospitals would like to be treated “no different from private hospitals,” the fact is that they are different. They are public agencies, created by the citizens they serve, and they only qualify for the supplemental nursing home Medicaid funds because they are “non-state government owners.”

These county hospitals should not be allowed to reap the financial benefits of being a public agency while rejecting the responsibilities of trust, transparency and accountability on which public institutions are built.

Tony Cook, Indianapolis Star